So today let’s welcome to our 22nd day of the POETRY Celebration a guest who my husband and I both have on our playlist, Down by the Salley Gardens by William Butler Yeats.
This poem was written by Yeats after being inspired by an old Irish folk song and now other Irish folk songs were created after being inspired by the poem. This ballad of love has really come full circle.
You can see why the poem remains so known. The lesson of the poem can be heard in any pop, country, rock, rap, etc. song today. It’s about the heartbreak of young love. A lesson we all must learn on our own.
Down By the Salley Gardens
Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.
In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
The speaker of the poem is “Down by the salley gardens.” He is down by what we call in America Willow trees. A Weeping Willow is my favorite tree and I am always transported to that setting in my mind. I think it is so appropriate to the tone of the poem as well. This wise, beautiful woman gives him the advice to “take love easy” and then later to “take life easy,” but these lessons need to learned on our own. The stubbornest of youth is hard to reckon with here. It isn’t until we get to the last stanza do we realize the speaker is older now and looking back on his mistakes in his younger years. We get a sense of regret that he didn’t heed this wise advice and so he is “full of tears.”
So even when we try to mask our foolishness, “You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain't a sucker!” (Eazy-E), the lesson not to be foolish, but open to listening, is a lesson that cannot be told. We all have to learn it for ourselves. Even if it’s told to us “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred” (Rent) times we will not understand it until we experience the music for ourselves.